Choreographing abstract landscapes: Jason Martin
Untitled (Old delfts blue / Caribbean blue),
Oil on aluminum
Jason Martin (b. 1970) is an abstract landscape painter who sees his work “as a choreography or series of movements that can never be danced again in the same way.”
Photo credit: Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery
Martin was born on Jersey, a British-owned island just off the coast of France. He started his studies at the Chelsea School of Art in London and completed his BA from Goldsmith College in 1993. One of Martin’s key early inspirations was work from American abstract painter Robert Ryman. While viewing Ryman’s work at the Tate Modern in London, Martin was struck by a Ryman series that featured white stripes painted with sweeping, uninterrupted brush strokes.
Martin recalls, “This work showed a combination of brush marks with the suggestion that they were seamless, that there was an uninterrupted movement, a single sweep. I started to wonder how I could elaborate on that and take it further, creating a single brush mark.”
Photo credit: Pace Gallery
Back in his studio, Martin started experimenting with large, continuous brush strokes. He also became intensely interested in paint materials, exploring color pigments and texture combinations. The physical action of painting, Martin likened to a dance with his motions captured in paint. And the product was a sort of abstract landscape with hints of figurative elements (like beaches, ocean depths, tinged skies). “When you look at my works, you gaze into this imaginary space beyond and project associations from your own mental landscape on it. To me, figuration and abstraction are beautifully intertwined.”
Martin’s technique requires him to work quickly, else the paint will harden and become difficult to manipulate. He also needs a surface hard enough to withstand the aggressive movements that he sometimes makes while painting. Many of his works are created on aluminum, stainless steel and plexiglass.
With his liberal, thick application of paint, Martin’s paintings take up to a month to dry. He then sprays pure pigment into the crevices in layers to achieve the desired color saturation. The pigments create luminous visual effects, as the pigments absorb light.
Mixed media on aluminum
In 1996, Martin found a gallery partner in London-based, Lisson Gallery and had his first solo exhibition. The partnership has proven fruitful as, over 25 years later, they still work closely together.
The following year, in 1997, Martin’s work was included in the group exhibition “Sensation” at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The exhibition featured work from the collection of Charles Saatchi, a leading collector and promoter of contemporary art, and attracted over three hundred thousand visitors over a four-month span. Its success spurred a tour to Berlin and Brooklyn, and birthed the term Young British Artists (YBAs), referencing a group of provocative young artists who headlined the show (notably Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin).
Martin’s work differed from his YBA contemporaries. His minimal, abstract pieces encouraged contemplation, while the YBAs created sensational, graphic material that shocked audiences with provocative visual cues.
Throughout his career, Martin has continued to experiment with new mediums. Recently, he completed a residency at the STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, where he developed a series of works using paper casts, pulp, and dry point. Martin aims to push the boundaries of the abstract tradition by “finding new approaches emptying out more familiar notions of how to paint and developing a reduced and essential personalized language.”
Watch Jason Martin's creative process: